The Big Sleep

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The Big Sleep 1978 poster

Recently I watched the 1978 film remake of the Big Sleep. There has probably been a bigger waste of acting talent than that squandered by Michael Winner but nothing comes to mind.

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Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge in Howard Hawkes 1946 film of the Big Sleep.

The original 1946 version starring Humphrey Bogart and  Lauren Bacall was obviously made at a time nearer that of the novel, (published 1939). Raymond Chandler’s novels like the Sherlock Holmes stories of Conan Doyle occupy a particular time and place, in my opinion, this is, even more, the case with Chandler.

Setting the action of the Big Sleep in 1970s England didn’t work for me. In the Big Sleep, Chandler’s writes of Los Angeles, Hollywood, California and America at a time before it was touched by war, in the aftermath of Prohibition during the dying embers of the Depression. His novels are steeped in that sense of time and place. The characters who populate his stories are products of this period and like some fine wines, they do not travel well.

Get Carter

Michael Caine as Carter

A similar situation but travelling geographically in the opposite direction was the remake of Get Carter. Set originally in 1970’s Newcastle with Michael Caine playing Carter the 2000 remake with Sylvester Stallone in the title role was a poor shadow of the original. Get Carter was as was the Big Sleep comfortable in its own time and place the lack of Geordie accents didn’t diminish its quality. Stallone’s outing couldn’t and didn’t match Caine’s London hard man. Caine was totally credible, it is, in my opinion, the best ever British crime film.

Chandler’s only novel not to be made into a film. Playback is set in the early fifties and a different part of California. I hope it will find its way onto the silver screen, set in its correct time and place.

No copyright claimed for images used.

The Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wilipedia)

The Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wikipedia)

A friend of mine is a member of the Cambridge Astronomical Association, from time to time he invites me to accompany him to their lectures. The latest outing was to watch a very interesting presentation about an ancient (180-70BC) machine discovered on a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea. This mechanism has been described as the worlds oldest analogue computer.

The excellent and interesting presentation was given by John Lancashire. Mr Lancashire has built his own working reconstruction of the machine using the original design to produce 3d printed plastic reproductions of those components to use in his machine. He did, however, change the tooth profiles of the gears to involute from the straight cut original form.

Antikythera 1

John Lancashires reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism

The machine was recovered from the sea in 1901 and identified as containing gears by the Greek archaeologist Valerois Stais in 1902. Only recently with the aid of modern X-ray and scanning techniques was its purpose discerned.  This enabled the true extent of its complexity and sophistication to be established.

John outlined the timeline of key steps in the development of astronomical theories in the Hellenistic period from 500BC through to the time when it was thought the mechanism was lost. At that time the earth was still considered to be at the centre of the universe with the sun and planets orbiting it.

Antikythera 2

This side of the machine shows the pointers representing the position of the sun and the known planets. The ball in the centre in black rotates to show the phases of the moon.

He completed his presentation by demonstrating his model of the mechanism and how he had calibrated it for the present day, the lecture was so interesting that it continued well past its scheduled slot and we departed much later than usual.

Antikythera 5

A view of the gearing and on the right the pointers for each planet and the sun. The complexity of such an ancient machine is astounding.

On the trip home my friend and I discussed the machine and concluded that there could have been earlier less complex versions of this mechanism, that someone must have sat down and designed it possibly recording their design. It is possible that these designs and the underpinning theories were lost in the burning of the library at Alexandria. For me, the interest was not only in the machine itself but how it was constructed with such accuracy and the history of the machines that well may have preceded it. We can only speculate about those people who had the intellect to have designed this and possibly other similar machines unless we can design a time machine to travel back in time we will never know their identity.

A Summer’s Place

The way through the trees

The way through the trees

I have written before of my love of the Lattersey Nature reserve in Whittlesey, I usually visit several times a week. Watching the changes in the vegetation and wildlife during the year is something I particularly enjoy.

A fantastic pathway

A path in another part of the reserve

A path through Purple Loosestrife

A path through Purple Loosestrife

We are now in high summer with autumn lurking just around the corner. Amongst the flowers in the meadow grounds and wooded areas butterflies accompanied by a few dragonflies go about their business but I am aware of the ripening of blackberries a few turning red and black among their still green fellows. The days are beginning to shorten not significantly yet but the change is coming.

Blackberries 2

An abundant crop of blackberries

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Time to make the most of the summer we have, to cherish the beauty of butterflies, dragonflies, wonder at the bees and flowers growing wild that nourish them, many considered weeds in other settings. My old gardening teacher defined a weed as merely a plant being  in the wrong place. As far as the bees and butterflies are concerned these erstwhile weeds are certainly in the right place for them.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly visiting a thistle a plant in the right place for him or her

Stamford Shakespeare Company’s performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit

I was given a ticket to Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, a birthday present from my son. I hadn’t been to Tolethorpe Hall or watched a performance of this play before. My wife and I joined my brother in law together with his wife, her sister and friend. Enjoying a picnic in the grounds before making our way into the theatre.

The theatre is in the beautiful grounds of Tolethorpe Hall with permanent tiered seating and covered auditorium, the stage itself is detached from the auditorium and doesn’t appear to be fully covered.

The set was impressively well made showing a high degree of professionalism in its appearance and construction. Quality often lacking in sets used in many other supposedly more prestigious venues.

It augured well.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and laughed far more than I have done in a long time. The entire cast played their parts to perfection and brought for me a degree of magic I have rarely experienced at the theatre. I particularly enjoyed the total eccentricity of Madame Arcarti brilliantly played by Angela Harris but competition from the rest of the very outstanding professional cast was tremendous.

Madame Arcardi, Blithe Spirit Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

Madame Arcardi, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

 

The final scenes showed just how well the set had been designed a work of exceptional quality.

The thought crossed my mind after watching the play, whether the character of Charles Condomine had been inspired in any way by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a novelist with an interest in spiritualism. I did a quick bit of research but could find nothing to support the theory.

This was my first visit to Tolethorpe Hall it will certainly not be my last “The Importance of Being Earnest” is on my to do list for next season.

Thank you, everyone, at the Stamford Shakespeare Company cast, production team and management for a truly wonderful evening.

Review of Halfords Chain Cleaning machine.

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Like many men and boys, I have a fascination with machines; particularly ones with gears, cams, cranks and sprockets. My daughter knows me well, she has grown up watching me watching things whirr and rotate. She has seen me standing awestruck in front of traction engines and beam engines.

As a cyclist, it was with absolute delight that I opened my birthday present to find this wonderful looking machine, its gears and cogs clearly visible through its plastic casing. Then I read the label a Chain Cleaning Kit, as the late Professor Stanley Unwin would have said, “Deep joy”.

I had it out of its packaging there and then opening it up to inspect its works, being the man I am, reading the instructions came afterwards.

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

 

A few days later I put the machine to work, it is supplied with a small bottle of cleaning fluid to start you on your chain cleaning experience. The cycle was parked on the patio, a piece of wood placed under the stand to raise the rear wheel clear of the ground.

The machine is built in two halves to allow it to be fitted around the chain. The picture shows the two halves prior to assembly, the cleaning brushes and plastic cogs clearly visible.

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The next picture is of the chain cleaner in place ready for action and waiting for the cleaning fluid. After pouring some fluid into the top reservoir I turned the crank backwards as instructed, the machine fell off hitting the ground. The second attempt produced the same result and the chain came off the back sprocket too.

Cycle Chain cleaning machine

Ready to go just need the cleaner adding

I refitted the chain and machine then tried turning the crank forward, we were in business the accumulated grime started to lift from the chain making its way into the bottom reservoir.

Cleaning in progress

Chain cleaning in progress

The difference in chain cleanliness was very apparent, the removal draining of the cleaning fluid and washing the machine was easy and straight forward. I put my new toy away oiled my chain and was ready for cycling action.

A really thoughtful present.

Cambridge Strawberry Fair

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

I grew up in Huntingdon, which is roughly equidistant from Peterborough and Cambridge. Of the two cities, Cambridge was and still is my favourite. Setting my novel in Cambridge has given me the perfect reason (not an excuse) to revisit more frequently for research purposes.

The Park and Ride at St Ives and the Guided Bus are very handy, free parking and a bus pass really useful.

For those who don’t know Cambridge the sheer volume and variety of bicycles is I am sure something of a surprise.

Dutch bike

Dutch Bike

Today’s visit was to the Strawberry Fair, giving me valuable first-hand information I  wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I had a wander around the fair astounded by the inflated price of food available at the venue, Greggs got my custom after leaving the fair. Whilst ambling around the stands and stalls I noticed one selling carnivorous plants, I was tempted to ask if they had any Triffids? I am not sure whether they would share my sense of humour and probably have already had similar requests so decided against it.

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

There were a lot of live music performances taking place, nothing that really appealed to me but I am now of an age.

I toured some of the “lefty” stands, Momentum, Cambridge People’s Assembly, Cambridgeshire Keep our NHS, (nice profiteroles ladies reasonably priced too), Sea Shepherd and Hunt Saboteurs. I had a nice chat with the Hunt Sabs lady sharing my opinion of those who kill for sport and an account of an encounter I had with a hunt over fifty years ago. We agreed that those who kill for pleasure have at the very least a personality disorder.

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

I visited the Museum of Zoology and then the Sedgewick Museum of Geology looking for information to help my daughter with a topic she is teaching her class, about dinosaurs. Both museums are well worth a visit.

Old habits die hard and whilst walking around Cambridge I was evaluating the quality of the ironwork used in gates and railings, it no longer serves any practical purpose it just stimulates the brain.

I think I am now up to date with my research but an unexpected plot twist might require another visit, I won’t know until it happens, hang on, something is coming through now.

A Following Wind

Front book cover for A Following WInd

A following Wind front cover

Our U3A Creative Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths, is working on a new book, a follow up to Where the Wild Winds Blow, our first very successful attempt at writing and publishing. This new volume has the title: A Following Wind.

I am working on a new front cover for the book, something that conveys both a movement by wind and our Fenland landscape. Over the years I have managed to take photographs of what is for many people the defining feature of our landscape, the skies. Often at their most breathtakingly beautiful during sunrise and sunset.

The cover may be slightly different depending on the template restrictions but please take a look at it and let me have your feedback.

The Calling by Alison Bruce a review.

Front cover of the book The Calling

The Calling by Alison Bruce

Having read the first two books in the DC Gary Goodhew series (Cambridge Blue and The Siren) I was keen to try The Calling; the third or more accurately the first.

Alison had written The Calling before any of the others but decided that it was better placed as the third novel in the series.

There is always the problem of a Cambridge based detective being compared to that of Oxford’s Inspector Morse, Edinburgh’s Inspector Rebus or Bath’s Superintendent Diamond. DC Gary Goodhew is further down the ranks, a mere Detective Constable but none the less just as talented.

Goodhew struggles without any advantage of rank to find his way through a maze of clues, using unorthodox methods and skating round procedural niceties to find the answer to a troubling series of cruel murders. The ending is edgy and tense with the outcome by no means a foregone conclusion.

I enjoyed the book, like a great many of Alison’s fans, Cambridge is local and familiar to me, we have ownership of the settings.

This is, as are Alison’s other books well written, detailed and literate but above all else a damn good entertaining read.

Visiting Woodwalton Fen Nature reserve

Wood Walton Fen Nature Reserve

This probably as close to how the fens were before they were drained

My wife and I visited Woodwalton Fen Nature reserve recently, it has been a number of years since our last short visit. We parked alongside the Great Raveley drain that forms part of what is in effect a moat that surrounds the reserve. The reserve needs these surrounding and network of internal waterways to keep the ground moist and maintain its height above the surrounding land. The land roundabout has been drained and is as a consequence lower.

We crossed the bridge into the reserve walking to the thatched information shelter where we picked up three leaflets, each a guide to a different walk around the reserve. We decided on the waterfowl trail and set off.

Woodwalton Fen Information Centre

Woodwalton Fen information Centre

The Great Fen Project of which Woodwalton Fen is part is returning the area to the fen wetlands that existed before their drainage. The ground is boggy and wet nearly everywhere, apart from some wooden walkways, in many places, there are ponds of dark peaty water. The landscape gives some indication of how difficult travel must have been in centuries past when most journeys in the fens were made on either foot, horseback or by boat.

The Bungalow Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

The Bungalow Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

For a while we saw little in the way of wildlife save for a few swans and an odd duck, then after coming across the bungalow and a beautifully carved memorial bench beside it, we spotted a dear in the distance. Surprisingly for this early in the season there were a number of butterflies around we spotted Brimstone and Peacock for certain.

Carved Memorial Bench at Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

Carved Memorial Bench at Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

 

A deer in the distance

A deer in the distance

A sleeping Swan

A sleeping Swan

We gingerly edged around a sleeping swan then came across a ditch full of frogs apparently mating and the biggest ball of frogspawn I have seen. I cannot remember seeing so many frogs in one place they all seemed to be thriving looking at their size.

Frog spawn

Frog spawn

Frogs

Frogs just two of a huge cast

We rambled on finding the winding footway to Gordon’s hide. The hide is elevated roughly ten feet above the level of the mere sharing the same name, it gives a good panoramic view of the open water and the surrounding fen. We will bring binoculars on our next visit.

We continued on the trail until we found ourselves back alongside the Great Raveley Drain. We followed this until we reached the bridge at the entrance and crossed to collect our car. As we walked alongside the drain we encountered a tree obviously hollow, home to wild bees. These little fellows seem to have an aerial motorway across the drain, the bee traffic seemed heavy and continuous.

Bee hive in a tree

Bee hive in a tree

We reckoned that we had spent the best part of two hours wandering around this beautiful, tranquil place and are determined to return sooner rather than l

Philosophy and History

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By Copy of Silanion, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7831217.

I went to a U3A meeting yesterday at St Neots, they had a number of different displays around the room from different interest groups one was by the Philosophy Group.

Although there are a number of definitions of Philosophy they seem to distil down to what I understand Philosophy to be, the study of wisdom. I have felt for some time that along with History it should be a core subject within the education system. Philosophy should replace Religious Education in my view. Teaching people how to think, would help them make sounder judgements, rationalise and avoid knee jerk reactions to untested statements. It would make us all more questioning and rational less willing to take statements of fact at face value.

Why then history too?

This quote in its various forms is probably the most persuasive argument for the teaching of history:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill

(by Dallon Christensen White board Business Partners website)

The commonly used expression, “Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it” is actually a misquotation of the original text written by George Santayana (1863-1952), who, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stanford University online also provides an outstanding and much more detailed background on this important and profound philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.

Santayana’s quotation, in turn, was a slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Burke was a British Statesman and Philosopher who is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern political conservatism.

(Answers.com)

I was talking to a history teacher of a secondary school a few years ago, when I said I thought history was a very important subject she asked me why I thought it was important?

I replied, that “History teaches us not only about the past but informs us about the present and helps predict the future”.

If we do not know history we have no option than to continue to repeat it as we have nothing to learn from.

England’s Lost Lake a Review

 

 

Englands Lost Lake

England’s Lost Lake, The story of Whittlesea Mere.

 

 

The fen country was for centuries, millennia even, a vast expanse of open water fen and bog that stretched from the Wash inland to the higher ground to the North and West. It has been described as a vast sump soaking up and holding the water flows from those surrounding counties on higher ground. A map of Huntingdonshire dated 1645 shows towns and villages as islands amongst the bogs fens and open water. Although drainage had been started in Roman times it was not until the seventeenth century that the serious work began with Van Vermuyden as the chief engineer. Eventually the last mere left undrained was Whittlesea Mere; Paul Middleton’s  England’s Lost Lake tells the story of that nineteenth-century project updating an earlier work produced by the WEA in 1986.

It is an interesting read, detailing not only the draining of the Mere itself and the methodology but also describing some of the players involved. The way of life of those that had earned a living from the mere is explored too. We learn of the Reed Cutters, Wild Fowlers and those that fished the Mere. We are informed of how the different seasons provided other means of earning a living for those whose livelihood depended on this vast lake. Details are given of the wildlife, insects, flora and fauna that occupied the area. The species that have survived and those that were lost, some completely unique to the area.

One is left with the feeling that the project was not the overwhelming success envisaged and returning a good proportion of the fen to its past state was partly an act of expediency. This though is purely my own personal view. Whatever the reasons the Great Fen Project is something that those of us that love this landscape, welcome, a view I share with the author.

If you have an interest in the Fens and its history this is a book you should own.

One last point Paul if you are reading this can you tell me about the Shelerode?

This book was sponsored by the Fenland Trust.

 

 

The Great Fen project and Fen Ague

Fenland sky 

The Great Fen Project is an attempt to restore and return some of our natural fen heritage to an earlier state. The objective is to facilitate the regeneration of an ecosystem encouraging the return of greater wildlife diversity and habitat.

Having the oppportunity to watch flocks of waterfowl as they return to roost in a panoramic Fenland sunset is something I look forward to. Even aged 67, after spending my life in the fens, the limitless skies, the beauty of spectacular sunsets and sunrises, on a grand scale continue to fill me with awe.

One aspect of the regeneration of the fens seemingly neglected concerns me. Fen Ague or The Ague was a form of malaria once prevalent in the fens. Those that survived the infection were often revisited with its symptoms. Samuel Pepys was a famous sufferer as was Oliver Cromwell. He died at the relatively young age of 59 from Tertian Ague.

Starting with the seventeenth century and since large scale drainage has removed the stagnant pools of water – the breeding grounds for the mosquito disease carriers. Records were kept during the nineteenth century by county of the incidence of Ague or Malaria. Records have been correlated together with rainfall and temperature variation  Rates of Malaria infection were found to have fluctuated with temperature and rainfall. Warmer and wetter summer weather coincided with increases in the number of recorded cases. (1.)

Since the referenced article’s publication in 2003, evidence for climate change has become even stronger.  The assumption is that as a consequence the UK will become wetter and warmer. As the Great Fen Project develops, pools of stagnant water will grow in size and number.

Greater numbers of people from the UK are visiting areas abroad where Malaria is prevalent. This increases the probability that some travellers may return infected with the disease. These factors: increasing climate temperature and more abundent mosquito breeding grounds could see a return of a disease that had left these shores. Another concern is that warm air flows could bring mosquitoes infected with the parasite into the fens. I have expressed concerns about Fen Ague to those setting up the Great Fen Project.

Rex Sly on his blog post “Malaria in the Fens” (October 2007) believes that the extinction in the fens of the disease has been comprehensive.  He states that the disease-carrying mosquito species responsible has become extinct and there would need to be a pool of infection existing within the local human population. These factors he feels sure should be sufficient to prevent re-emergence of Malaria. Hopefully, Rex is right but the areas of concern I have outlined may outweigh this optimism. Increased international travel, disease evolution, larger bodies of stagnant water and a warmer climate could in the none-too-distant future provide a means for Malaria to return to these shores.

Hopefully, Malaria or Fen Ague is gone for good. However, at the very least, contingency plans to deal with the problem, should it arise, ought to be in place. The guardians of our welfare should, in my view, give this matter serious consideration.  Often in the past, the unthinkable and unexpected, have found us as a nation unprepared, even though, many timely warnings were given.

 

(1) 2003 article. (Malaria in Britain: Past, Present and Future, 2003. Katrin Gaardbo Kuhn, Diarmid  Campbell-Lendrum, Ben Armstrong and Clive R Davies).

 

All the Colours in Between

all the colours in between

Book cover of All the Colours in Between

All the Colours in Between 

Written by Eva Jordan

Lizzie Lemalf is an author, a mum, a step mum and daughter of ageing parents.

Her parents, children, husband, ex-husband and those she cares for jostle for her time as she pursues her writing career. A career embarked on later in life. Her success and growing recognition as an author are balanced by the trials, pressures and joys of family life.

The reader becomes immersed in lives of the finely drawn characters inhabiting this novel’s pages. All the Colours In Between gives us the opportunity to share the pleasures, triumphs and emotions of Lizzie and her family; making their way not only in the world but through life.

The story deals with the contemporary difficult issues that affect many of us, our families, friends and those we care for. Eva’s observations are keen, incisive and informative.

It is a long time, a very long time indeed that I have experienced the empathy or shared the feelings  I felt for Lizzie and her family. Eva has highlighted the permanent nature of parenthood. She explores the complex emotional nature of relationships, doing so with great insight, skill and eloquence.

All the Colours in Between is an exceptionally well-written book. I could pile superlative, after superlative on top of that sentence but those few words sum it up: It is for me at least, truly exceptional.

This is one of the very best books I have read.

I Daniel Blake

Poster for the film I Daniel Blake

Advertising poster for the film I Daniel Blake

I watched the Ken Loach directed film “I Daniel Blake” Saturday evening.

Its first airing on BBC television. Probably one of the best British films ever made. Although the characters are fictional, their stories aren’t, the evidence haunts our streets. Our fellow citizens sitting on pavements, begging, hungry children at school and shopping trolleys in supermarkets collecting donations for food banks.

When I was an apprentice, my foreman, a Geordie told me of his family’s struggle to survive during the thirties, he was an apprentice himself then, having left school at fourteen. He told me about the visit by the “Means Test Man”, who forced the family to sell what few possessions they still had.

During my apprenticeship I attended Technical College one day a week, our English teacher gave another insight into the thirties. This man an old Etonian, an Oxford graduate and an economist, also taught economics to an evening class I attended. He was responsible for my wife and I being able to buy our own house. At the start of the college year in 1971, he walked into our English class, the first one of the new college year. Asking if any of us were thinking of getting married and buying a house? I replied I was thinking of it.

“Buy a house now”,  he said, “by this time next year they will have doubled in price”.

I asked if he was sure, he said he was absolutely certain, my girlfriend and I went out that weekend found a house under construction affordable for us we thought, the foundations were in. We secured it with a £25 plot deposit then struggled to get a mortgage, the cost of the house was £4150 in 1971, when we moved into our first home a year later the price was over £8000.

This English teacher told me of his in-laws a married couple; during the thirties, they were forced to live apart by the government. Made to work in different parts of the country as domestic servants.

He was probably one of the most left-wing people I have met also one of the most caring.

About this time Monetarism was being touted as an economic policy, he explained why it wouldn’t work and why its forerunner hadn’t worked in the thirties.

We all now know for most of us, the homeless and disadvantaged in particular that it doesn’t work.

To quote Glenda Jackson (Tribute speech to Margaret Thatcher), “greed has now become a virtue.”

Having known about the thirties and how it affected those suffering from the policies of a callous government, I had no desire to see the same horrors revisited.

I Daniel Blake is a commentary of what has happened to our society fictional only in its characters. A proper caring society should not accept the treatment of our fellow human beings meted out by an uncaring government, we the people are better than this even if our government isn’t.

 

A few thoughts on retirement

Grandad with the garden cup

My granddad with his prize-winning garden around about the time I was born

When I was younger I never thought that retirement could be a full time job, I should have done, my Granddad had warned me.

Most Sundays when I was a young lad I would call round to see Granddad and my Grandmother. One Sunday, Granddad was in the lean-to green house on the back of his large shed. His shed had been his workshop before he retired. As he stooped down to pick up a watering can I asked him,

“What’s  it like being retired Granddad?”

He turned to me and said,

“Son, I don’t know how I used to find the time to go to work.”

The last few months have been pretty much full with publishing our writing group’s  first book, an interesting experience. Amongst all that I had a trip to the Royal Institution in London and a train ride pulled by the Flying Scotsman, a brilliant birthday present from my wife.

Walking my son and girlfriend’s dog twice a day occupies a good chunk of time, cycling once or twice a week makes a big inroad too.

I am trying to unblock my writers block that has lodged itself in my novel. I need a clear mind and fresh thinking, possibly, a cycle ride on my own will work its magic.

A point of view

Reflections

Reflections at the end of the day

Book Reviews.

Probably the biggest disappointment regarding a book review I had was reading a particular Booker Prize winning novel,. It was an acclaimed comedy, the trade reviews were ecstatic. I wasn’t able to buy it when first published so was over the moon after finding a copy in a charity shop a year or two back.

I should have been warned, just short of halfway into the book was a train ticket, used as a bookmark it seemed. The train travelling reader had apparently not finished the book, not even it seemed reached the halfway stage. Undeterred  I started on this worthy tome; my word was it hard work. They say that some comedy is elusive, after reading the whole book, I can honestly say that I have never encountered such elusive comedy. Wherever it is lurking it certainly isn’t within the pages of that book. I freely admit that some of the prose was good, excellent in places, though never outstanding. There are probably more copies of this book in charity shops with train tickets lodged within the pages than laughs that have been extracted from them.

I am someone who writes but not yet an author.

I take heart from the fact that I can write better comedy than a Booker Prize winning author, not only do I find my own stuff funny, other people do to.

The best comment I had was from a lady who said, “I nearly wet myself laughing when I read your story”.

Was it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes with the Booker judging panel ? Because someone said it was funny, did they feel it was their own inadequacy that stopped them seeing the jokes and felt they had to pretend it was funny even vote for it?

Many other readers of the same book share my opinion, judging by their comments, “it isn’t funny.”

All judgement is subjective, reviews are only the opinion of the person writing it and are only that, an opinion.

On the plus side my copy only cost me 50p.

Stephen Alexander Author of Peter and the Dwarf Planets

Stephen Alexander author of Peter and the Dwarf Planets

Author Stephen Alexander with his book Peter and the Dwarf Planets

 

I had the pleasant opportunity to have a conversation with Stephen Alexander, author of Peter and The Dwarf Planets.

Stephen is married with two small children and heads the Modern Languages department at The Neil Wade School in March. He is a keen cyclist and astronomer.

Stephen had concentrated his efforts in the past writing adult fiction but a desire to write for his son provided the stimulus for Peter and the Dwarf Planets. A question from his son about the stars in the sky was the inspiration for his book. When Stephen himself was a young boy his father a keen amateur astronomer introduced him to the night skies and the celestial objects that populate it, an interest that persists to this day.

Peter and the Dwarf Planets is a beautifully illustrated by  Laura Coppolaro a locally based illustrator. It is a short book ideal for its target audience of four to six year olds, the engaging story is in verse and features a boy and his dad exploring space keenly watched by Matou the ginger cat.

My daughter teaches the book’s target age group and has taken it to share with her class. She thinks it will be ideal for her class of predominantly boys.

Peter and the Dwarf Planets is published by Olympia Publishers.

Hopefully, Peter and his dad will have further adventures to share with his fans both young and old in the future.

The launch of Whittlesey Wordsmiths first collection

Book front cover

Where the Wild Winds Blow

I have been a member of the Whittlesey U3A Creative Writing Group since just after its launch. It has now grown to eleven members and become Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Each month members write a piece mostly a set challenge, each member has a different take on the topic and the result is a diverse mix every time.

We have collected together our efforts and published them as a paperback book and also as an e book with Kindle.

If you fancy a look and maybe place an order here is the link to Whittlesy Wordsmiths site.

https://whittleseywordsmiths.com/

 

 

 

Rudi Jennings

Rudi Jennings at Whittlesey Library

Rudi Jennings with his book The Last Myon at Whittlesey Library

 

A few weeks ago in August I had the opportunity to meet the author Rudi Jennings at Whittlesey library. Rudi is a local author living nearby in Wisbech, at present, he grew up near there. Writing  is fitted around running his pest control business. Rudi draws on his experiences in the personal protection service to give colour and to inform his plots. His first book The Last Myon has  been snapped up and published by Olympia Publishers, a truly remarkable result for a new author. A new book is underway, a stand-alone novel following on from his first.

I was able to ask Rudi how he writes and where his inspiration comes from The Last Myon or to be more precise its first few chapters were the result of a dream. His writing takes the form of, in his words pasting ideas on a storyboard linking the characters piece by piece until the individual characters and their actions form a complete cohesive story. A trip to Tesco’s provided the diversion needed to enable him to resolve a problem with his plot which had dogged him. I suppose, every little helps.

He writes as ideas come to him during the day, recording his thoughts on scraps of paper or emailing them to himself. Breaks and lunchtime provide Rudi with writing opportunities during his working day. Once home from work, the scraps of paper are collected then filed or pasted onto the story board.

Rudi’s first book is an interesting read, the characters we have been introduced to will no doubt grow and develop in future work. There is the implied promise of a series with these characters featuring in the world Rudi has created for us.

Keen that children are encouraged to not only acquire the love of reading and books but also stimulated to write themselves, Rudi has visited local schools to promote this message. He is hoping that children become inspired to record their thoughts, share their experiences and  tell the stories within them.

The Siren by Alison Bruce

Book cover of The Siren by Alison Bruce

The Siren by Alison Bruce

I never thought that retirement would be so time consuming. The thought that my twilight years would stretch in front of me unfilled allowing me time to read, watch films, write and generally idle away my time seem far from the reality.

Finally I have found the time to read The Siren, the second in the Gary Goodhew series of novels. Although Cambridge Blue was excellent, a brilliant first novel,  I think The Siren is even better. As with Cambridge Blue the book is set in my part of the world many of the places and the landscape of the fens are familiar to me, though I must admit not Mill Road Cemetery. Up to the very end I was left guessing. I shall be buying the next in the series, The Calling or adding it to my Christmas list for Santa’s attention.

 

 

The start of autumn

Autumn leaves

A start to autumn a first fall of leaves

Winter is seldom welcome however autumn with its beautiful paint box colouring the leaves of trees in red, golds and browns is another matter entirely. Autumn never starts on a particular day we try to box it with dates but it comes and goes to suit itself. The corn harvest in the country seems to occur with the last of summer, whilst the blackberry and apple crops seem to coincide with the first hints of autumn, for me autumn starts with the browning of leaves. I was walking my son’s dog in our Lattersey Nature Reserve and found an early first fall of brown leaves starting to cover the ground. Autumn can stay for a while but it needn’t hurry away to let winter in, not on my account anyway.

Joyce

I wrote this piece as an entry for a flash fiction competition. A member of our writing group asked me if it was autobiographical, apart from the reference to Jimmy Mack all of it is the product of my imagination.

 

Do girls still dance around their handbags? Wondering, seeing again, remembering fondly the long-legged girls of my teens… Joyce would dance around her handbag with girlfriends in a circle, or sometimes in a line, to Jimmy Mack or Heatwave. All I could manage was a slow cuddle around the dance floor with her as When a Man Loves a Woman played. My efforts to dance more energetically or remotely in time with the music, were a lost cause.

Joyce was petite, pretty, bubbly, kind, and altogether lovely; I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to go out with me. We were together for a few months after leaving school – both fifteen. Joyce worked in a grocer’s shop; I was an apprentice car mechanic.

Joyce was adopted. The relationship with her adoptive parents wasn’t good; boyfriends weren’t allowed to visit her home.

One dark Friday night Joyce disappeared. There was no trace of her after that.

It left me heartbroken. The only information I had was that she had been seen at the station boarding a London train alone, with just a suitcase. A letter from her arrived a month later, apologising for the sudden departure and saying she would be in touch when things had sorted themselves out. There was no return address.

I heard nothing more, and a year later Rose entered my life. We fell in love and married – and were happy until Rose died suddenly last year.

I turned Joyce’s new letter over in my hands, wondering what to do next. Fifty years is a long wait to get in touch. Now it is my turn to pack a suitcase and catch a train to London. Perhaps in a few days we will return together, there is a lot to talk about.

 

 

Some of you may not be familiar with Jimmy Mack.

The Now Near Daily Weekend Treat

Before I retired and before our dog died from old age, the weekends, most weekends would see Sophie and I at the nearby Whittlesey’s Lattersey Nature reserve. Sophie was a lovely old girl with a lot of black collie in her heritage, a rescue dog, she was clever, loving and funny.

During the working week my wife would give Sophie her daily walk but at the weekends it was my turn. This man and his dog would wander round the two parts of the reserve, Sophie running around not normally venturing too far away from my side, except sometimes to unsuccessfully chase the odd rabbit. Now and again she would have a swim in one of the ponds but it wasn’t a regular event. Sophie’s death put an end to my weekend treats, her ill health had limited and ended them a while before. Having no reason to visit the nature reserve, I seldom ventured into its confines. Sophie’s absence was not only something we felt in our home but something more profound than that.

Sophie

Sophie our old dog

Just over a year ago my son and his girlfriend adopted a golden Labrador pup, Hugo. We participate in a dog share during the working week. Monday to Thursday, my wife and I look after Hugo. He is a character, about sixteen months old, still full of puppyish naughtiness and bounding with energy. Most days we go to the nature reserve for one of his twice daily walks.

Young Hugo

A young Hugo

We usually start on the right hand side of the reserve entering through the galvanised metal kissing  gate into the reserve. Before us a large field fenced on the right hand side to accommodate grazing cattle. We walk  along a mud track worn into the grass, to the left rough grass edged by trees, falling away into a dip. Moving down the track, Hugo enthusiastically exploring new smells, pulling on his lead his tail wagging constantly.. The grass, mainly uncut is often still  damp from the night the air full of wet leaved earthy smells. The field path ends at, the reserve’s boundary, marked by a hedge of Birch trees, Elder and Hawthorn bushes. The reserve is higher at this point, originally brick workings, then a refuse tip. Turning left, the track descends a slope then joins a raised board walk, about a foot from the ground which is prone to winter flooding. The ground is dry in the summer months the reeds and rushes flourishing. Alongside the slope are brambles their uneaten fruits available in the late summer and early autumn, an avenue of silver birch flank the board walk. The walkway follows the line of an old railway siding which had served the brickworks, broken willows decay amongst the birches, many perforated by burrowing Goat moth caterpillars. There is little audible bird song most is drowned out by the noise of vehicles at a gravel works and from the railway nearby.

The boardwalk in spring

The Boardwalk in spring

 

The boardwalk in autumn

The Boardwalk in autumn

The walkway planking is topped with wire mesh to prevent slipping, to our left is a pool of open black water, much of it filled with reed and rushes, these die back brown for the winter. A few red dragonflies skim about as we walk, one foolhardily lands on the decking in front of us, Hugo fortunately doesn’t notice it, he eats them. During the autumn around the boardwalk the leaves of the trees and bushes, are a riot of brown and gold.  Later in the autumn any greenery left is mainly from grass. brown leaves, predominantly hawthorn and birch form thick carpets in places. We leave the boardwalk ascending rough steps in the slope that are edged with old railway sleepers. Following another track through more brambles before ascending another set of steeper narrower steps back to near our starting point, then through the gate crossing to the left hand part of the nature reserve.

Ducks and Coots on the big pond

Ducks and Coots on the big pond

We enter by a kissing gate and descend wide  steps cut into the slope edged by old railway sleepers. This part of the reserve has a larger cleaner pond, another former clay pit, home to ducks coots and the occasional visiting Canada Goose. At times we have witnessed fights by both ducks and coots in the water. If there are no young coots or ducklings around, Hugo likes a swim retrieving the sticks I throw for him. When either he or I have tired of the activity we resume our walk round the reserve. There is no boardwalk network this side of the reserve just one across an area that becomes waterlogged in the winter months. The paths are of rough earth  worn into the ground through constant use. Leaving the pond area the reserve splits into woodland on the left and grass and scrub and bushes to the right. If the sun is particularly hot we stick to the shade of the woodland. retracing our steps when we reach the end before returning home. On cooler days we leave by a gate at the top and walk the long way home along the roads.

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The Gaspipe Cavalry

Have you heard of the Gaspipe Cavalry?

This nickname was given to The Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions, (The Hunt’s Cyclists) a military unit raised within the county of Huntingdonshire.

As part of the Huntingdonshire History Festival Mr Martyn Smith, webmaster of http://huntscycles.co.uk/ gave a talk at the George Hotel in Huntingdon on the 26 of July.

His talk about the Hunts Cyclist Battalion was interesting and informative. Several of the audience had ancestors or other relatives who had served in our local unit. Many men then moved on to regiments of the line to fight in France or overseas. The Hunts Cyclist battalion was only allowed to deploy in the British Isles under the army regulations of the time.

Hunts Cyclists A Company Filey 1914

A photograph of A Company Hunts Cyclists at Filey in 1914

Most of us didn’t know but guessed at the high casualty rate; of those who joined, 25% were killed and 50% wounded in action. Many more carried hidden wounds until the day they died. Reliving unrelenting memories of horrors they had witnessed or grief for the loss of close, even boyhood friends. Post Traumatic Stress wasn’t identified as a problem then and no treatment was available.

This local battalion, a cavalry unit was started in 1908,  the Earl of Sandwich its honorary colonel. Because Huntingdonshire was a small rural county, there seemed little likelihood that the 1000 men needed to form an infantry regiment would be available. A cavalry battalion only needed 500 men. However instead of horses, their steeds were to be bicycles, the soldiers were described as wheelmen. As some of the bicycles were allegedly made from surplus gas pipes, they became known as the Gaspipe Cavalry.

The Hunts Cyclists spent their active service in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire protecting the coast from a possible German invasion. As Martyn pointed out their single shot rifles were no deterrent to the German Battleships which shelled some East coast towns. Their failure to deter the German navy led to ill feeling from the affected town’s residents who were disappointed in their failure.

The talk showed in great detail how the local Hunts community got behind their own men whether it was knitting warm clothing for them or converting vehicles to carry machine guns.

He detailed the development of the Gaspipe Cavalry’s mounts (originally the cyclists were expected to supply their own steeds). How rifle mounts were developed, the need for brakes, (very important in the hilly areas where they were stationed not so in the fens). There were many casualties caused by the cycles themselves until their design was improved

Another interesting feature was the billeting arrangements, bell tents for the unfortunate men, a hotel for the officers. He mentioned Charles Laughton, not from Huntingdon but a family member of the hotel owners in Scarborough where the HC. officers stayed. He was evidently recruited there. Charles Laughton became a famous actor in the twenties and thirties. Starring on both the stage and in films He went onto become a renowned film director and producer, dying in 1962 at Hollywood.

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland. My grandad and grandma.

My grandfather Richard Cumberland served in the army during the First World War. Joining the Hunt’s Cyclist Battalion in August 1914 before seeing active service as a member of Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was discharged wounded in February 1918.

His first posting was as a member of  A Company to Filey, I am not sure whether during the time he was there my grandmother joined him or not. I have a recollection of a story that Granddad helped out at the fish docks unloading the catches, whether this was at Filey or somewhere else in that area. This may have been as part of his duties or a bit of spare time private enterprise. When you are young you seldom ask the questions you should have done. Thinking that people will live forever you put off finding out information that will become so precious in later years.

War badge record showing Grandad's discharge record

War badge record showing Grandad’s discharge record

Martyn’s love of his subject, the tremendous respect and desire to make sure these men who sacrificed so much are not forgotten is something that will stay with all of us who were privileged to hear him speak, for a long time. He has made it his mission to track down every member of the Hunts Cyclists and commemorate each one, holding memorial services as he finds another grave or resting place. Honouring the men we owe our existence to

Thank you, Martyn, for a most interesting talk.

 

Cromwell Walk in Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

Last Monday evening I joined a group of like-minded people for a guided walk to explore what was left of the Huntingdon Oliver Cromwell would have known. The tour had been organised by Huntingdonshire History Festival, our guide was Alan Butler, a long-serving volunteer at the Cromwell Museum.

Our group set off from the Town Hall heading for the North end of the High Street. It was here that Royalist troops entered the town following their thrashing at Naseby, to start what became known as the Battle of Huntingdon. The Royalists overcame local resistance and occupied the town for two days before withdrawing.

Moving South the next point of interest was Cromwell House, the site of Oliver Cromwell’s birth and home of his parents. Outside the house set in the pavement is a commemorative plaque one of several around the town. The original building in Cromwell’s time was a Priory. The house is now a care home.

St John’s churchyard is a little further along on the opposite side of the road to Cromwell House, Oliver was baptised here, the church was in a state of disrepair even then and didn’t survive the civil war pulled down near its end in 1651.

Moving along the High Street, Alan our splendid guide directed to cast our eyes to the roofs of the buildings on the George Hotel side. To the surprise of most of our group, we learned that most of these buildings dated from the seventeenth century. The twisted chimneys an important clue. My great-grandfather, then my granddad (his son in law) had a corn shop in one of these buildings no 63. I knew it was old but hadn’t realised it was that old. Now an estate agent the beams in the ceilings and in the party walls have been exposed and clearly visible, through the front windows. The George Hotel (outside). was the next stopping point, Alan said that Charles the First had his headquarters here for the two days the Royalists occupied the town.

On our left, as we moved southwards to what is now the Cromwell Museum. The rebuilt Old Grammar School where Oliver Cromwell and been a pupil and later one Samuel Pepys.

Cromwell Museum Huntingdon

The Cromwell Museum Huntingdon from all Saint’s churchyard.

All Saint’s church was next, opposite the museum occupying one side of Market Hill, there is another commemorative plaque set in the pavement just outside the church gates. Oliver Cromwell’s father Robert is buried here in the family tomb. An old former Huntingdon neighbour claimed to have shaken hands with Oliver Cromwell’s father when work was being carried out on the tomb.

The Falcon Inn to the left of All Saints also in Market Hill was used as the Parliamentarian’s headquarters during part of the Civil War, it was also reputedly the recruiting station for the New Model Army. Remaining original features of the Inn include the heavy oak doors and the first-floor bow window.

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

The present Town Hall directly opposite All Saints Church is built on the site of an earlier town hall. We walked behind the town hall passing the Market Inn, though old it isn’t thought to date from that period.

Moving south along the High Street we paused at Saint Benedict’s Court site of the church of that name. The church was said to have been destroyed by Royalist cannon fire during the Civil War. Stone reclaimed from the ruins of the church was used to build the Barley Mow public house in nearby Hartford.

Continuing along, Alan told us that lurking behind many of the present day shop and building frontages, older building remain. Again he directed our attention skyward to the evidence of twisted seventeenth-century chimneys. An open door from the High Street to one of the remaining passages gave us a glimpse of half-timbered walls on either side.

The present-day Hartford Road is shown on John Speeds map of the time, on the corner of which stands the Three Tuns Public House. My great-grandfather is recorded in the 1911 census as landlord (William Dixon). His daughter, my grandmother Lily, is shown in the record as working there, not Cromwell related but a bit of local history.

The Three Tuns public house Huntingdon

The Three Tuns Huntingdon

Saint Mary’s Church was our next port of call, this was old in Cromwell’s time, Robert Cromwell, his father had been one of its bailiffs. After passing more seventeenth century buildings, including the wonderfully restored 147 High Street, next to the former studio of photographer Earnest Whitney, we crossed the ring road to arrive at the stone bridge between Huntingdon and Godmanchester. During the Civil war, the central section was removed and a wooden drawbridge substituted as part of the town’s defences.

Entrance to Saint Mary's Church Huntingdon

Entrance to Saint Mary’s Church Huntingdon

After visiting the Bridge we made our way back beside the ring road to Castle Hills, during the Civil War the earthworks were used as defensive positions. The hill top commands a good view with firing positions for cannons over the river and the bridge. The site would have been larger in Cromwell’s time the encroachment of first the railway then the A14 has taken a sizable portion of the site.

We completed the tour near the Bus Station, at the town sign, lamenting collectively about the lack of a statue to Oliver Cromwell, in this his birthplace. He is described by Antonia Fraser as our “Chief of Men” and by Christopher Hill as “God’s Englishman”.

Thanks Alan for a most interesting tour.

If you fancy seeing what’s on offer at the Huntigdonshire History Festival try this site:

https://huntshistoryfest.wordpress.com/calendar-of-events/

 

A guest post on the Whittlesey Wordsmiths Blog

I was asked to start what will hopefully become a discussion on the Whittlesey Wordsmiths blog about writing. As a member of this group I have been helped by their support and privileged to meet a group of very talented individuals. Hopefully some of this talent will rub off on to me, they can spare a bit.

Any way the piece is on the blog please take a look and add your two pennyworth or more.

Here is the link:

Writing

 

Delivering the News

A version of this article was published in Best of British Magazine in their Past Remembered section. A first for me, being paid for something written by myself.

 

I was about or just under thirteen years old when starting my first newspaper round in Huntingdon – a morning round, using a Pashley small front-wheel large-basket trades bike. A Sunday round was added next, in a different part of town. At that time there was competition for paper rounds, even waiting lists. My evening round was the most interesting. The morning and Sunday rounds I delivered for a newsagent but the evening round was my first taste of self-employment.

An older lad leaving school gave me the round. The papers were bought direct from a wholesaler and sold to the public. In 1964 the gross profit per paper was one penny – the old penny: large and 240 to the pound.

The wholesaler used an office at a garage and taxi company’s in Ferrar’s Road. It was situated in the back corner of a rectangular cobbled yard, the house at the front was the garage owners’. There were workshops down one side of the yard, a high wall along the opposite side. The back of the yard, away from the house, had more buildings and an arch with a driveway underneath leading to lock up single garages rented to the public.

The office contained a desk, a typewriter and chair, two largish tables, two more chairs, a telephone, tea-making facilities, also a large machine for printing Stop Press onto the papers. The evening papers sold by my wholesaler were London papers – The Evening News and The Standard. He was also the local wholesaler for a few magazines, one of which was Private Eye, a good read even then.

After finishing school, dropping my things at home, and collecting the trades bike, it was off to the wholesalers. There I collected about a dozen papers before cycling to the railway station. In the station I sold papers to waiting passengers – at first on the platform nearest the ticket office then, crossing the footbridge to the northbound platform, to commuters waiting there. When the express train from London arrived – I can’t remember whether, at that point, they were still steam or early diesels – the papers were collected from the guard’s carriage. The two bundles were carried back over the bridge – Evening News on my right shoulder, Evening Standards in my left hand – heaved into the basket of my bike, and I would be off.

There was a steepish hill out of the station to George Street but after that it was downhill leaving George Street, to use a short cut down cobbled Royal Oak Passage to the High Street. The passage had a central gutter then with an iron drain about halfway along. One day the bike’s front wheel caught in the drain, catapulting me over the handlebars. The bike stood on its end, the heavy papers pinning the basket to the ground.

Royal Oak Passage Huntingdon

Royal Oak Passage as it is now the central gutter and drain have both gone

Once through the passageway, my journey would continue up the High Street to the wholesaler’s delivering the papers to the office.

Premises in Ferrars Road Huntingdon.

P Cumberland DN The wholesalers were in the far right-hand corner of the outbuildings painted white. The house at the front belonged to the owner of the garage.

The Stop Press news would be received by telephone and transcribed in shorthand by the wholesaler’s secretary, the garage owner’s wife. The news was typed up onto a Roneo stencil, a narrow strip that looked like carbon paper perforated at one end. The stencil was loaded onto a drum at one end of the Stop Press machine, the papers placed onto a shelf at the other end then fed onto a conveyer by hand. The conveyer  passed papers under the rotating drum, which printed the news updates onto each paper in turn.

As soon as a dozen papers were printed. I would take them to a nearby factory – The Silent Channel – this company made rubber mouldings and also the guide channels for vehicle windows, cycling around the factory to sell as many as papers as possible before returning to the wholesalers to collect the rest of my papers. The other distributor at the wholesalers had driven off by then in his Austin A30, delivering papers to local newsagents.

Pashley trades bike

Pashley Trade’s Bike

The basket would be reloaded then I would head for the home of my assistant Stephen. His was the original round acquired from my predecessor. When he had his papers it was off again, next stop French’s offices and hostel. French’s were building London overspill estates, enlarging Huntingdon. After selling papers around their premises I delivered my own round, looking out for new prospective customers at the same time. A small John Bull printing set enabled me to produce advertising cards for evening paper delivery services, posted through the letter boxes of new arrivals, followed up with a call, which often gained new customers. The business was given to Stephen when I left school aged fifteen keeping a Sunday round on for a few years afterwards. I have a Sunday paper round now, have had for fifteen years or so, but in a different town. I am probably now the oldest paper boy in the Fens

Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Lattersey Nature Reserve Whittlesey the walkway in Autumn

The walkway at Lattersey Nature reserve the beauty of this scene constantly changes with the seasons

Whittlesey Wordsmiths are fortunate to have within their ranks, two published authors, winners of fiction writing prizes, a very able editor/ proof-reader  and a talented biographer.

Set up under the Whittlesey U3A umbrella this local group meets monthly at the Scaldgate Centre in Whittlesey. Meetings are held every first Thursday of the month from 11am, anyone is able to attend a free taster session but will need to join the U3A to become a member of the group, the fee is £3 per meeting to cover venue costs.

At recent meetings we have been fortunate to have had presentations by two local authors on the intricacies of publishing a book, both in print and online. The talks were informal, informative and very instructive. Thank you Stephen Oliver and Stuart Roberts. Like many commonplace objects that successfully manage their function, we ignore the container, giving it little or no regard but delight only in its contents. In the same way that we ignore the jar the jam arrives in, caring little for its design, construction and functionality, so it is with a book. We care little for the printing unless the quality is so bad it makes reading difficult, little for the binding (unlike Samuel Pepys) but only on the written words within.

Publication, its details, fonts, layout, sizes, printing, copyright and a myriad other things, though only covered briefly, were for most of us a completely new field.

A current project is to produce a collection of work by the Wordsmiths in time for Christmas, these talks were a help in focussing attention on the job ahead. The content is being assembled with ease from the increasing pool of talent, that is the group. The hard work will probably be assembling it into a finished product, not the filling but the container.

Irony?

I was visiting my brother in hospital yesterday he has been pretty poorly, currently suffering from pneumonia. I was getting near the end of my visit when our cousin and his wife turned up.

We then proceeded to discuss people we all knew, many old school contemporaries that had died recently.

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